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Assessing Interdisciplinary, Community-based Research Outcomes for Course Development, Implementation and Improvement  

D. Dunbar and M. Terlecki, Cabrini College, Radnor, Pa. 




An interdisciplinary course called Environmental Psychology, was piloted whichconnected service, education, and research that benefitted both the undergraduate and the local community by learning about local watershed issues through a local stream, Crabby Creek as the focal point. Both natural and social science undergraduates worked together on the scientific study of the creek environment and its inhabitants. Students and instructors became active participants with a local non-profit partner, the Valley Creek Restoration Partnership (VCRP) in addressing and advocating for change to improve the Crabby Creek storm water-related concerns. Course feedback, regarding knowledge and attitudes in relation to environmental awareness, interdisciplinary thinking, and community-based, undergraduate research experiences, showed that students gained more experience in arguing and critiquing different perspectives and better understood how different disciplines can come together to work on a problem. Students also better understood environmental problems that face our nation and gained more experience in working with the community through enhanced research methods. Still, ceiling effects may have been observed; however, it remains promising that students indicated they are likely to choose another undergraduate research experience as a result of this course.  




David A. Dunbar 

Phone number: 610-902-8770 

E-mail address: 




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Viewing 7 of 7 comments: view all
a few suggestions (mostly on writing, not on content): Start abstract with: "We designed a pilot honors course called Environmental Psychology, which would connect service"...etc to end of that paragraph. I think you can leave out the first two sentences if you do that. In second paragraph, second sentence "students gained more experience in arguing AND critiquing", right? Last few sentences of the paragraph detract from your overall goal of convincing people that this was a worthwhile process. Can you re-state it so that the concern about ceiling effects comes first--something like "despite students' high ratings of this course, we remain concerned that these students are already interested in pursuing a research experience, and in the future, intend to target students who are less likely to choose research experiences". Then you could end by saying "We feel it is promising that students indicate they are likely to choose another undergraduate research experience as a result of this course".
Posted 16:55, 14 Feb 2009
Hi David,
The first paragraph could be severely pruned to enable more information in the second, which is the core of your project. Things that I would like to see described in the abstract would be: what is the major learning goal of Environmental Psychology, to put your study into context; numbers of students surveyed; in such a partnership who assesses the students during the course - you or the community group? In the second paragraph you have statements like "students better understood ...". Better than what what they could do before the course, or better than another group of students? I also don't quite make the connection between the title and its reference to alignment of an institution's core curriculum and what you actually describe in the abstract. Describing what the learning goals of the course and how these fit with the degree program might overcome this.
Posted 01:17, 15 Feb 2009
Hi David,
I dont follow this and find it a little contradictory "Despite student’s high ratings of this course, we remain concerned that survey results suggested that these students are already interested in pursuing a research experience. However, we felt it was promising that students indicated they are likely to choose another undergraduate research experience as a result of this course." do you mean were- ie thy were prediposed to do a research experience before the course rather than these students are already? Look forward to seeing the project at the meeting. Sherri
Posted 11:41, 17 Feb 2009
Thanks Sherri - Missy and I revised our abstract based on everyone's comments. Will are still working on addressing some of Chris's comments.
Posted 12:37, 17 Feb 2009
Hello my critical friend,

Since I am so late in posting my thoughts I am not quite sure if what I am reading right now is the original or the revised. But in any rate I thought I would send along my thoughts for the version currently up. I personally end up always writing long sentences in my written work and has been told over and over again to avoid stuffing more than one or two ideas connected by clauses in one sentence. With those years worth of warning, I would recommend you to break up the first sentence. Instead of providing the description of the course and its potential benefits in one sentence, perhaps you could do it in two. A similar suggestion holds for the sentence that starts with Course feedback.... It looks like in that sentence you teall the reader both about all the different tools/parameters you looked at to evaluate the course's success as well as your findings. I would also break those up so that the first part doesn't read like a hard to follow list and the findings doesn't get lost. My final point is about how you report the findings. Your wording suggest a comparative conclusion like " gained more experience in..." but there is no indication as to what you are comparing the student's final state to. My guess is either you are comparing the students at the end of the course to how they were in the beginning, or perhaps these students who took the course to the ones you had before who didn't take the course. It is not clear to me which is the case. So I would suggest you include an explicit statement in your abstract about this if you deciode to keep reporting the findings in a comparative language. Or else you might want to consider to state the findings slightly differently, perhaps in a more absolute sense.
Good luck..
Posted 20:48, 17 Feb 2009
What is a ceiling effect?
Posted 16:54, 18 Feb 2009
A ceiling effect is when students already scored high on a pre-test for an assessment so scoring high on a post assessment test might not show any difference even though students felt they benefited from whatever they were being assessed. For example, we asked students if they would prefer undergraduate research as part of a course. Since most of our students were honor students who already have taken courses with research they indicated they do prefer this so the post test basically reinforced how they thought before they took the course.
Posted 21:57, 18 Feb 2009
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